The Politics    Friday, November 20, 2015

Time for some action

By Michael Lucy

Time for some action
Things are heating up as the Paris climate conference approaches

It looks like 2015 will be the hottest year ever recorded. In a week and a half, the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will begin in Paris. Delegates from 195 countries, plus representatives from countless companies and NGOs, will come together with the avowed goal of reaching an agreement on climate and emissions.

All up, there will be more than 40,000 attendees. That’s a lot of delegates, but what they’re trying to achieve is a colossal enterprise that will affect the billions now living and all those who will ever be born.

The UNFCCC was signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, and marked a general global agreement that rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere risked “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The first Conference of the Parties took place in 1995, in Berlin, and it’s only now, 20 years later, that we are closing in on a legally binding agreement. The G20 meeting last weekend in Turkey issued a call for an “ambitious” agreement that will aim to hold total global warming below 2 °C. (That’s since the industrial revolution. The increase so far is about 0.75 °C.)

The G20 statement also said that COP21 should include the “differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of various countries. This indicates that a distinction should be drawn between developed and developing countries. Historically, this has been something of a stumbling block – particularly at the 2009 meeting in Copenhagen, where Kevin Rudd notoriously complained of having been “ratf*cked” by the Chinese. Countries like China and India don’t want to risk hamstringing their own economies to cut emissions when rich countries have already had the benefit of unchecked ones, so the distinction seems like a positive one.

The unwillingness of developing countries to give up the chance for greater economic equality with the developed world isn’t the only factor that has prevented serious agreement sooner. There has also been the natural, vast inertia of a system the size of the world, and political opposition and the deliberate, knowing obfuscation of the science from the likes of Exxon.

And there has been the problem of the citizens of the developed world, who don’t want to be inconvenienced. We are richer than anyone has ever been, but nonetheless we fear any small decrement in economic growth rates or our standard of living.

Kiribati’s president, Anote Tong, whose country will be among the first to be wiped out by rising seas, is in Australia in the lead-up to the Paris conference, calling for a moratorium on new coalmines. He, quite bluntly, puts the question we must all face: “I challenge people, leaders in Australia to face the reality. Or let them say ‘I don't care’ and then go to church next Sunday.”

The Australian delegation to Paris has been given a mandate to sign up to a strong agreement, including a push for eventual decarbonisation of the world economy. Will we – the global we – get it together this time? Even if we do, will it be too little and too late? As Malcolm Turnbull likes to say, we must embrace change. It’s an exciting time to be alive.


Today’s links

  • Some of George Brandis’ eccentric changes to arts funding have been wound back.
  • A boat – possibly filled with asylum seekers – has been boarded by the navy off Christmas Island.
  • Scott Morrison is in a rush to review foreign investment rules.
  • Peter Dutton says counter-terrorism officers have “offloaded” almost 200 people from international flights in the last four months for national security reasons.
  • The Productivity Commission will turn its eye to live animal exports.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Michael Lucy

Michael Lucy is a writer based in Melbourne.


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